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One In Four Americans Would Not Inform Spouse of Financial Difficulties

The NFCC’s September online poll revealed that 24% percent of more than 1,400 respondents would not tell their spouse if experiencing financial difficulties. 

Reasons given for withholding the information included the fear that it would worry the spouse (9%); that the spouse is unaware of the debt (8%); that it would damage the relationship (7%). 

“Even if well-intentioned, withholding financial information from a spouse is not a sign of a healthy relationship, either emotional or financial,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC.  “It is encouraging that the majority, 76%, would share the information with their spouse so that they could work together to resolve the situation.” 

Even though having a discussion around money can be difficult, particularly if it is long overdue, it is a topic that ideally should be addressed early in a relationship, preferably before tying the knot.  “People bring financial baggage into a relationship that they often don’t deal with until there is a problem, making it challenging to have a constructive conversation,” continued Cunningham. 

To help facilitate a positive conversation about financial issues, the NFCC recommends the following Do’s and Don’ts of a successful discussion:

  • Don’t approach the subject in the heat of battle. Instead, set aside a time that is convenient and non-threatening for both parties.
  • Do make it a casual conversation about a serious subject, respecting the fact that each person has valid opinions and concerns.
  • Do be honest about your current financial situation. If things have gone south, continuing the same lifestyle that was possible before the change in income is simply unrealistic.
  • Do be open to adjusting your lifestyle. If spending cutbacks or second jobs are necessary, resist whining. It’s likely that your situation will be temporary, and you could end up regretting the pity party you hosted.
  • Don’t hide income or debt. This is known as financial infidelity. Instead, bring financial documents, including a recent credit report, pay stubs, bank statements, insurance policies, debts and investments to the table.
  •  Don’t point the finger of blame. That’s a real conversation stopper.
  • Do probe to understand long-held financial attitudes, often present since childhood and ingrained by observing how parents addressed money issues.
  • Do acknowledge that one may be a saver and one a spender, understanding that there are benefits to both mindsets and agreeing to learn from each other’s tendencies.

Once everything is out in the open, it is time to make decisions about how to handle your finances in the future:

  • Do make a plan to deal with any skeletons that came out of the financial closet. Such surprises can greatly compromise your ability to obtain future credit opportunities. Now is the time to deal with them.
  • Do construct a new joint budget that includes savings. Emergency situations drop into your life at the most inopportune times.  Without a rainy day fund, the financial hole becomes even deeper.
  • Do decide which person will be responsible for paying the monthly bills. It is likely that one person will be a good fit for this task, while the other finds it burdensome.
  • Do allow each person to have independence by setting aside money to be spent at his or her discretion.
  • Do decide upon short-term and long-term goals. It’s ok to have individual goals, but you should have family goals, too.
  • Do talk about loaning money to family members and friends. Decide if it’s something you’re each comfortable with, or should be taboo.
  • Do talk about caring for your parents as they age, and how to appropriately plan for their financial needs, if necessary.

“Court records show that financial stress is one of the main causes of divorce. Taking action now could prevent a disaster later,” commented Cunningham.

For professional assistance working through financial problems that have never been addressed, consider an appointment with a certified consumer credit counselor at an NFCC Member Agency.  To be automatically connected to the Agency closest to you, dial (800) 388-2227, or to locate a counselor online go to www.DebtAdvice.org.  For assistance in Spanish, dial (800) 682-9832.

The September poll question and results are as follows:

If I were experiencing financial difficulties, I

Would tell my spouse so that we could work together to resolve = 76%

Would not tell my spouse, as they have no idea about the debt = 8%

Would not tell my spouse, as it would worry them = 9%

Would not tell my spouse, as doing so would damage our relationship = 7%

Note: The NFCC’s September Financial Literacy Opinion Index was conducted via the homepage of the NFCC website (www.DebtAdvice.org) from September 1 – 30, 2011 and was answered by 1,430 individuals.

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